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Polis defends last call order following legal challenge from bar owners

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Derek Draplin | The Center Square

(The Center Square) — Colorado Governor Jared Polis on Thursday defended an executive order temporarily making last call for alcohol purchases 10:00 p.m., a move that’s led to a lawsuit from a group of bars in the state.

The governor signed the executive order Tuesday, citing the 20-29 age group who’s going to bars and restaurants and subsequently “leading this spread of infection in our state,” he said. Despite the order, Polis said he’d work with lawmakers to change current law – which makes last call 2:00 a.m. across the state – to allow local governments greater leeway to decide for themselves once the pandemic passes.

The executive order was met by a legal complaint in Denver District Court by the Tavern League of Colorado, a trade group representing 200 bars in the state, which called the rules “arbitrary and capricious.”

In late June, Polis also signed an order to re-close bars to sit-down services, citing an increase in COVID-19 cases.

The lawsuit, which also lists Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment along with the department’s executive director, Jill Hunsaker Ryan, said the order was a “uniquely onerous restriction on bars and restaurants putting thousands of Coloradoans out of work.”

The complaint also said of the last call order that “there is no evidence that ordering alcohol after 10 p.m. increases the spread of COVID-19.” 

Polis said Thursday in response to a reporter’s question about the lawsuit that while “it’s a terrible temporary rule,” it’s necessitated by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Most people go out to socialize, and that’s a tough thing to give up for a short period of time,” he said. “I don’t like that Coloradans can’t be at bars and nightclubs.” 

“We need to find the way that people can have fun in a safe way and we have got to find a way to reverse the trajectory of this virus, and this along with the mask order are the two things that with the data that we have” regarding the virus’ spread, led to the decision, Polis said.

The governor added that "with positive news with these numbers hopefully going in the right way," the last call time could be adjusted to midnight.

The governor said early in the news conference that more public/private testing partnerships are needed following four weeks of increased cases.